Chapter 39: Hunting Season
Stepping past the boundary between light and dark felt very liberating to the dragon playing with her newest toy. Just earlier today she discovered her Wars Flame, she still didn’t fully understand all of its powers, and yet she already gained another power.
The darkness coiling around her like a living being, not like shadows at all. Urged by the runes dancing on her skin, Nisha brought a small piece of night into the day, it flared around her, the obsidian shard shifting forms to fit her desires.
Giving birth to a ghastly shadow dragon, the twilight gained sharp claws and scales made of pure darkness, shuffling back and forth like it couldn’t hold a complete form.
Hidden beneath the eventide, the awoken huntress rushed towards her enemies, the soldiers screamed in horror and confusion as a hellish fiend seemingly stepped out of a portal to the netherworld to haunt them.
Like small cherry blossoms, the dragon’s red lips perked up into a playful smile, prey right in front of her played to her vicious nature, this hunt was neither about gaining food or claiming a territory.
Nisha’s family was in this place, the enemies were about to endanger them. That was all, her hesitation gone.
I tried being merciful. I extended my hand when he was on the ground and he tried to kill me in return.
Don’t expect any more forgiveness from me. Losing Grandpa was hard on me, and I faltered in my conviction. Never again.
Responding to her renewed resolve, the dim orange-coloured edges of her trusty [Taurith Short Swords] dispersed in little specks of dying fire as a new fierce, yet royal crimson edge started flaring in the midnight gloom that she had conjured, appearing as two single beacons of light breaking through eternal night.
Similar to how she was connected to her flame, the darkness revealed their secrets to her, their true form the runes that flittered about her otherwise spotless skin akin to pure marmor, feasting on the remaining mana and aura she had left after her earlier healing.
Time was short, the large spell was fairly bound by her own limits, but to Nisha, this did not present a problem.
“Midnight, the darkest hour of the night. Lend your eye to the hunter, seeking her prey.”
The incantation was fairly simple, a low murmur of the shadows, waiting in anticipation as the dragon rushed towards her targets, lending her their powers.
I guess this isn’t a fight anymore. The hunt is on!
Not unlike the first time she spread her wings as a dragon, bathing in the shadows and wielding her flame made Nisha feel right at home, giving her a sense of rightness, two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together.
Merging into the dusk to the point where she herself didn’t know where her skin ended and the shadows started, the dragon sped towards the small group of soldiers in a small staccato of steps.
Blood rushed through her veins, pure life force propelling her forwards and making her feel so alive, the thrill bringing pure joy to the huntress.
An expression of terror was plastered on a soldier’s face, his commander had long since dropped his handkerchief and run away, soiling himself, while he chose to fight and face the demon that was coming for them, a creature made of blackness itself and animated by two glowing bloody orbs.
He died where he stood, a red seam blooming right beneath his ribcage where a sword had sliced through him, the shadows playing tricks on him, doomed to never know what killed him.
Ecstatic to feast on the essence of the man, a thousand different shadow mouths twisted into fanged smiles, making sure to not even leave a tiny drop behind, before transforming into an undulating mass of night again.
Nisha didn’t even pay attention to her brand new Midnight playing around, focusing on reaching the remaining two soldiers before they were able to spread the news of the dead unit, ensuring the safety of her sisters.
The rush even made her overlook the change of her blades; her bluish [Taurith] swords shone with a new luster when the contrast of the crimson effect her War Flame applied to them made the sight even more spectacular. However, all that appeared in her line of sight was the back of the officer that disrespected the kill she made earlier today, and the readied blade of his subordinate who demonstrated true honor when he chose to face the darkness that threatened to swallow him, instead of running away like his leader.
Even after the dark cloud passed his frame, only an afterglow of the night gleamed in his eyes, a scream forever trapped in his throat as a vermilion rose bloomed on the white collar of his uniform, draining even the last bit of light in him as the Midnight passed by.
Two down, one to go. But he won’t get away as easily as the other two, he earned much worse.
Enraged by the disrespectful behavior of the officer, Nisha wanted him to suffer as much as he had tarnished the honor of the fallen soldier he spat on. She herself had never disrespected an honorable enemy that she had slain in battle, each and every one of these battles was for a rightful kill or something she treated with respect by eating its flesh for a meal.
I still don’t like taking them from their loved ones, just like they took Grandpa Eldrin from me. Nevertheless, we all made our choice and I am ready to die here, fighting for my family. Everyone has to be resolved to risk at least that much, or they are not fit to be on a battlefield.
I think one of these philosophers said something similar when we read his works during lessons, what was it? “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”
A fitting quote.
The difference between her current situation and the fight she was in earlier was quite astounding to Nisha, she barely had had any time to think when she was crossing swords with the soldier, decisions and insecurities demanded most of her attention. Currently, however, she was chasing men down like monsters or animals, just like she used to do in the Wilderness, a play she was intimate enough with to have idle thoughts and contemplate philosophy.
During the fight, she had to block every blow and concentrate all of her attention on her enemies, the killing blows she struck were more instinct than anything else.
Presently she had no issues at all with seeing exactly where she needed to strike the monsters she was chasing to put them down, the gaze of an expert hunter guiding the small dragon, the smile on her face never wavering. Truthfully, she might have smiled a bit too enthusiastically while following the small fleeing back of the leader, tears running down his face whenever he threw a panicked glance towards the monstrosity that was devouring his followers and now opened its bloody maw to swallow him whole too. No one would be completely unaffected by a rush of power and excitement like this.
To her defense, she didn’t completely lose her original objective and stayed in control of her powers, reining in the greed of the runes and the flame, urging her to release the reins and grant them free access to her remaining energy reserves, promising a bloody end to the hateful officer.
Contrary to that, the dragon asserted her dominance over both of them, drawing them close to herself and subduing them. Her word was the law that governed these two powers, and calling upon the entire extent of abilities was way beyond her current limits, keeping up the current miniscule amount was almost draining every bit of mana and aura she had anyway.
Taking on the appearance of a jet black cloak and the already familiar crimson bracelets on her wrists, she hid the [Taurith Short Swords] that lost their glowing edge inside the mantle while hiddenly overtaking the man, vanishing from his point of view when he glanced back again.
Alarmed by the monster fading out of existence, the terrified leader collapsed against a building’s wall, panting and throwing his head left and right, his soiled pants testifying to the lethal fear that gripped his soul.
“Are you afraid? You didn’t seem that scared when you spat on that soldier’s face earlier. Did you know him? Why did you do that?”
Hiding herself in the darkness of another building, the sun giving her plenty of spaces to hide much akin to shrubbery in the forest, the man on the ground only saw two glowing rings of liquid gold flowing in the air, a pair of eyes that seemed to piece straight into his soul.
“Please – please, don’t kill me. I don’t know him at all, I just … I don’t know! Please, please, don’t kill me, I beg you …”
Turning his face away from the devil that chased him, which now also spoke in the adventurer tongue and seemed to have both reason and savagery inside of it, the officer was more afraid than ever.
“We saw a – dead patrol. Investigated! I – was going to – get reprimanded, was angry … just wanted to – I don’t know.”
Sobbing at the prospect of death, the story of the soldier was barely intelligible, but there were enough words to make out a general story.
“Spare me – please! I can – make it up to you! Rich family – I can pay.”
Welling up deep inside her, the burning anger flared up again, there was no conflict between these two men at all, all the dead man did to deserve such disrespectful treatment was to fall in battle for his nation, his honor only getting repaid with contempt.
Flashing inside the shadows, a white crescent calmed down the officer, the smile seemingly friendly and full of warmth.
“Don’t worry, I don’t kill humans.
I only hunt monsters and animals.”
The second crescent silver flash froze the hopeful smile that the leader put on his face forever, as the blade Nisha wielded cut deep into his body, penetrating his heart and spine in one swift move, a killing blow. The dragon knew to put her prey out of its misery quick and painlessly from the numerous times she had used her own claws to execute it. No glowing edge coated the blade or any shadow came close to devouring the officer’s essence, this blow was made solely by Nisha, it was her decision and her actions that reaped this life to quench the fury she felt for him.
As she pulled her hood above her head, ready to vanish into the shadows again to hunt for the next prey that dared to stand between her and the rescue of her family, the sound of heavy metal boots rang between the houses.
“Stop! Drop your weapons and surrender, there are ten arrows aimed at you!”
A deep, rough female voice stung Nisha like a bee, reprimanding herself for having lost her reason in the rush of a hunt yet again, neglecting her surroundings.
Beholding the scene behind her, a full double row of soldiers had taken position, the front armed with large tower shields and an arrow peeking from between each gap, aiming straight at her.
Their shiny metal armor fascinated the dragon, the plate akin to the treasures she kept in her [Soul Space] near the creek.
Of course, another batch of hostile fighters, especially in this great number worried her, but based on strength and multitude of different coloured hues representing the mana and aura cultivation ranks of the soldiers in her [Spirit Vision], Nisha quickly abandoned the notion of trying to outrun them, the leader of the first group of soldiers she had encountered on this day already had the strength to match her in a fight, putting him roughly at the later stage of the third rank. And every single individual currently facing her was definitely stronger than him, their armor might hinder them in a chase, but her chances looked rather grim, especially the woman that stepped forward, she shined with an even greater green sheen.
That’s my guess at least. Hard to tell with all those shiny weapons and armors, are they all enchanted and inscribed? How extravagant.
“You see, this puts me in quite the bind. Are you friends of this guy? Because then I certainly can’t do what you are asking me, I fought him fair and square, no reason to get all upset. Your forces are invading this city after all, you should expect some resistance.”
Noticing the same emblem of a fiery bird engraved on the breast section and shield of each soldier, the only difference was the choice of colour, a golden tone replacing the dirty red that smeared the leather armors from before.
The chipper and deadpan reply must have greatly amused the leader of the troop, as she couldn’t keep a short bout of barking laughter in.
“No, no, I think you are misunderstanding me. Put down your weapons and retreat from the corpse, I have orders to follow.”
Waving her hand in a dismissive manner, the women commanding the unit stepped forward and inspected Nisha’s prey more closely.
“My name is Cordia Hale, first Lance Corporal of the second Imperial Legion.
Retrieving the traitor – or his remains – Julius Clay, that is our mission, per the personal orders of her Eternal Majesty herself. Actually just part of it, the order was to eradicate this whole damn traitorous bunch, he is just part of the mess. But I have to say, I do quite like the way you cleaved that guy almost in half, saves me a lot of trouble hunting him down. We are eradicating all of the rebelling officers and imprisoning the remaining soldiers, our march orders are quite strict to treat the civilians with a firm hand, but respect them and offer our assistance wherever we can, this is our responsibility, the empress’ words are absolute.”
Speaking in a rehearsed manner, the words of lance corporal Hale seemed to be that of a soldier through and through, giving a brief account of her duty and even offering a small bow when she addressed Nisha, giving her the proper courtesy of an officer requesting something from a citizen. the people under her command lowered their weapons once they understood there was not going to be a direct confrontation or immediate danger, remaining in two neat rows of ten each, each of them keeping a hand close to their sword hilts in case there should arise trouble nonetheless.
The dragon was about to answer the lance corporal when her tone changed to a more lively and candid tone, the low and feminine voice gaining a cheerful voice when she directed some more words at her, making it hard to stay serious.
“You seem too young to be a soldier anyway, so please be a darling and put those swords away, right? I just want to get this over with, we have a schedule to keep.
Once we are done with our primary duty and have secured the remains, feel free to request help from our First Lance. While you aren’t quite a civilian, this is the least I can do to make up for the damage we caused.
Or just walk away for all I care, it’s not like you killed this guy or anything, nothing to report, right men?”
The positive grunt of twenty mixed male and female responses forced Nisha to suppress a giggle, the whole situation was already quite surreal.
“You know, it’s quite hard to believe that you aren’t from the same side, you know his name and all. All I know about him that he is a coward and despicable man, but to suddenly trip and die from it, that is a poor fate. I won’t hinder you with your task, but please understand that I can’t trust you just yet, I don’t know who you are after all. If you could direct me towards General Luthais Dharnas of the defending forces and then just let me go, that would be greatly appreciated and probably count as offering your help. Wouldn’t want to make you go against your orders, would I now?
Not that I could outrun you anyway, I know my limits.”
Lacing her voice with a heavy sarcastic undertone, the dragon girl tried to make it clear that she absolutely did not trust the lance corporal and her troops, the whole situation was a farce in her eyes anyway, just because the group she currently had with her was clearly stronger than herself didn’t mean that Nisha was simply going to submit to a foreign military power.
To her surprise, Hale didn’t even need a moment to consider her answer and simply replied in her flat and low voice again.
“By all means, feel free to request a meeting with General Dharnas, we are about to request an audience as well. Just head straight south, you will probably find him somewhere there, throwing idiots like the one at your feet from the wall they just crawled up, but I’m sure the second legion will have much fun supporting them in that endeavor. But I’d be rather worried to have a girl like you roaming the streets alone, especially clothed in such a suspicious black cloak. How about we accompany you, there’s much drivel like our deceased friend Julius on the streets between here and the general, I’d just feel safer to escort you. No, I insist.”
Leaving no room for doubt, the smile the lance corporal had on her face seemed neither sincere or fake, unreadable for the dragon, who could only return an empty smile and step aside as subordinates started collecting the remains, putting them inside an empty white linen sheet and placing the bundle along two other identical bags that were already stowed away on a hand drawn cart. It had been out of her sight as the soldiers were standing in closed ranks before her.
No one talked to her or made an effort to look at her, only the woman in charge shot her a clearly amused grin from time to time, making sure she didn’t just run off, a thing the dragon seriously considered.
I wonder if my description just changed from suspicious civilian to prisoner of war.